They walked into Vietnam’s TET Offensive
Pinned down in a trench by sniper fire, mortar shrapnel in his neck, helplessly watching as many of his fellow Marines were wiped out as part of a historic attack that changed the course of the Vietnam War.
But it happened, almost exactly 45 years ago. One of those Marines who survived the start of the TET Offensive v isited Brady at his Rockdale home early this week and, when the two got together to dig up the old memories that are never very far below the surface, they proved again the truth of an often quoted assertion.
There’s really no such thing as an “ex-Marine.”
ONE GRENADE— Brady and Scott Reynolds of North Granville, New York, were among the first Americans to feel the brunt of North Vietnam’s TET offensive.
It was bad. Reynolds escaped, though most of his squad didn’t. He saw fellow Marines “literally disintegrate in front of my eyes” by North Vietnamese firepower and had already figured out how he was going to fight until his last bit of ordnance was exhausted.
Almost, that is. “I was saving one grenade,” he said. “That was for myself. I wasn’t going to be captured.”
PATROL—The day before Reynolds’ firefight, Brady was one of four Marines sent on a patrol in an area not far from Da Nang.
“We entered a village and we knew immediately something was wrong, Brady said. “The ground was stomped down, meaning a lot of people had been through there. We found a tunnel system. I crawled inside one and could smell food and cigars.”
But they didn’t go into the trees. If they had, they would have encountered 1,400 North Vietnamese soldiers.
“I know they were watching us that day,” Brady said. “They didn’t attack because they didn’t want to tip off the offensive, just yet.”
Brady and his patrol notified battalion headquarters and pulled out. The next day a 10-man squad, including Reynolds, was sent back.
PINNED DOWN—But they did something Brady’s patrol hadn’t. They went into the trees.
War isn’t pretty. The North Vietnamese opened up. “My sergeant’s brains went all over my face,” Reynolds said. “A young Marine named Arturo Ortiz from Los Angeles was literally blown to bits, there just wasn’t anything left.”
Reynolds was suddenly the only one left alive. “I laid there probably 2-1/2 hours,” he said. “ The North Vietnamese were talking to me, calling out, telling me I was going to die.”
Reynolds h it t he e nemy w ith everything he had. “I started out with 26 magazines (of ammunition) and I got down to six left,” he said. “But I was going to keep one grenade for myself.”
Finally, Reynolds knew he had to run or die. “I got up and somehow made it over a dyke,” he said.
And Brady? “We were the closest unit to Scott’s and when they got into that firefight several of us grabbed rifles and ammo and went to help them.
No one had yet realized the magnitude of the North Vietnamese offensive.
A mortar shell hit just a few feet from Brady. “The ground was muddy and that saved my life,” he said. “I only got a little piece of metal in my neck.”
But he was trapped, pinned down by sniper fire as the battle raged around him.
“ We were joi ned by 300 - 400 Marines along with tanks, Amtracs (landing vehicles), helicopter gunships and F-4 Phantom jets,” he said.
The remainder of the squad was rescued but there were heavy casualties.
HEROES—Brady and Reynolds encountered heroes of all kinds.
“I remember a medic called Doc Doherty,” Reynolds said. “He was all over the place treating people, those who could still benefit from treatment.”
“He just kept getting shot, over and over, but he kept going, helping people,” Reynolds said. “Doc won the Navy Cross that day.”
Brady remembers a different type of hero.
“Ed Bickert was something else. He loved the fighting,” Brady said. “He’d take on as many as 75 by himself. Ed won the Silver Star that day.”
Bickert, in mostly hand-tohand combat, charged a trench, killed five enemy soldiers, then moved along the trench and took out a machine gun which had pinned down many Marines.
“Ed came back just covered in blood, looked at us, grinned and said, ‘This is like street fighting in Philadelphia’,” Brady recalled.
FRIDAY THE 13TH—Brady got through his tour of duty without being wounded again. Reynolds wasn’t so fortunate.
Brady got to come home on a Friday the 13th.
“I had lost 50 pounds and was literally drowning in the uniform that was issued to me before I went to Vietnam,” he said.
He went on to a teaching career, including Rockdale High School where he won numerous awards.
Brady is now a gifted and talented specialist w ith Education Service Center Region VI in Huntsville.
He and wife, Sheila, are longtime residents of Rockdale.
GUNNER—Look up “tough *&^&*” in the dictionary and there will probably be a picture of Reynolds.
He was being evacuated from an ambush later in his tour of duty when North Vietnamese machine gun fire raked the helicopter in which he was riding.
It hit him in the leg.
“I really never felt a thing,” he said. “It made me mad. I stood up grabbed my gun, went to the door of the chopper and started firing.“
When the helicopter landed, there were medical personnel on hand to treat the wounded Marine, but since Reynolds was still standing tall, the first medic asked him where the wounded guy was.
“He’s around there to the left,” Reynolds joked. If “joke” is the right word under the circumstances.
Somehow the bullets had just missed his femoral artery, so he didn’t bleed to death.
VETERANS—That was long ago. But in a way, it was also the day before yesterday.
“For a long time it was hard to sleep,” Brady said. “That’s gotten better over time.”
The two veterans sat down at Brady’s house and talked into the night Monday. Reynolds departed at midweek to see another Texan, who is also a survivor of that bloody day TET began.
Each of them marveled at the crisp detail in which they could remember the smallest movement 45 years ago, movements that literally meant life and death.
“When I hit the ground after they opened up on us, time just seemed to slow down,” Reynolds said. “I often wonder how long it takes you to simply fall down!”
‘ THANKS’—Marines are something special and they know it. Reynolds told a story that exemplifies the corps.
During a Vietnam firefight he saved the life of fellow Marine Darryl “Hippie” Burrcat.
“He had a hole in the front of his helmet and was laying there after a firefight,” Reynolds said. “Everybody thought he was dead including the enemy who could have shot him again because he laid out there on the ground all day. They just didn’t bother.”
Reynolds picked him up and carried him to safety, during which time Burrcat, slung over Reynolds’ shoulder, was shot again.
The two men met each other 38 years later at a reunion.
“Until then I didn’t know he had survived!” Reynolds said.
What did they do?
“He thanked me for saving his life and I thanked him for taking that second bullet because it would have hit me,” Reynolds said.